Grow Together in Christ (Luke 17:1-10 (Part 2))

           “Do not put God in a box,” were the words that Pamela Thomas told me as I sat in a college bible
study at 20 years old.  I was considering doing a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ.  They had several different options for summer projects, both in the United States and overseas.  She was trying to convince me to go to Venezuela as a missionary.  I would need to raise $ 3,500 for the trip and then raise $600 to cover my rent over the summer.  I did not think it would have been possible to raise the money for the trip and my rent so I decided to do a summer project in Santa Cruz, CA.  The state-side projects allowed students to get a job and pay for their expenses throughout the summer.  Santa Cruz was about 40 minutes from my parents which would also enable me to spend time with my family.  It seemed like a very logical decision. I sent my application in and waited and waited and waited. 

Several months passed and I had not heard anything so I called the Crusade office and they informed me that my application was lost and all the spots for the Santa Cruz project had filled up.  Since I couldn’t go to Santa Cruz, I told them to send me to another project within the States that would allow me to work.  I hung up the phone.  As soon as I hung up, the Spirit of God spoke to me, “Do not put God in a box.”  Before I even knew what happened I called the office back and I told them to send me to Venezuela.  I received an acceptance letter for the project and had two weeks to raise $4,000.  The Lord allowed me to raise $5,000.  “Do not put God in a box.”  I lacked faith in God.  I did not believe that God was able to meet my needs.  I put God in a box.  I put limits on His ability.  I did not have faith in Him.

            One of the greatest threats in the church is the “word of faith” movement. The Word of Faith movement states that through a verbal confession of the promises of God, we can receive blessings. The founder of the movement, E.W. Kenyon preached that God would award financial and other gifts if his people verbally asked.  If they did not receive them, it was because they lacked faith.  He coined the phrase, “What I confess, I possess.” Kenneth Hagin, the modern-day father of the Word of Faith movement claimed a four-part formula for receiving physical and financial blessing from God, “Say it; do it; receive it, tell it.”[1]  The movement holds the, “name it and claim it” theology.  It is a threat to your faith because the movement is built on the desires of the flesh rather than on the Word of God.  It is heresy and it is dangerous.  The movement emphasizes the amount of your faith rather than the majesty and glory of the One who gives faith.    
            Although the teaching is so dangerous, we cannot allow the pendulum to swing too far to the other side where we limit God’s ability to do great things with our lives.  God hears our prayers and delights to answer our prayers.  God asks us to live in the supernatural.  We must believe in Matthew 19:26, “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” In an effort to distance ourselves from the heresy of the Word of Faith movement, we may not ask God to do great things. Beloved, we cannot avoid believing that with God all things are possible. Jesus does not want us to put God in a box, but wants us to grow in our faith. 

Grow Together in Faith

            Jesus commands his disciples to be willing to offer continual forgiveness toward the repentant in the end of verse 4. “If he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  This level of forgiveness seems extreme.  This type of forgiveness takes faith, so the apostles appeal to Jesus for more faith.  Hear how the Lord responds to this request. Luke 17:5-6,

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

The apostles focus on the amount of their faith while Jesus focuses on the presence of faith.  God wants you to grow your faith not in looking at the amount of your faith, but rather wants you to focus on the object of your faith. As our view of God grows so will our faith, because we have more reason to trust and treasure who He is and what He has done for us. 

            The book of Hebrews is written to believers who came to Christ from a Jewish background.  They were facing intense persecution and many were in danger of drifting from their faith back into the Law. It is instructive for us in how the author opens the letter to the Hebrews,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

The people needed faith so the author extols the greatness of the object of our faith!!!  The greatest way to increase our faith in God is to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

            This is the exact opposite of the Word of Faith movement.  They tend to focus on the greatness of Lord Jesus Christ. They focus on themselves rather than on their their own faith, rather than the object of their faith.  It is dangerous theology.  I remember sitting on a front porch talking to with distraught teenage girl who was taught that if she had enough faith then her grandfather would not die.  He did die and she blamed his death on her lack of faith.  She was carrying that weight around on her shoulders. We should not focus on the amount of our faith, but rather on the One who is worthy of our faith.  If we focus on His glory and His greatness, our faith and trust will grow.  We want our faith to grow, but we want our faith to grow in Jesus.  

            Do you have faith in Jesus? The Christian life is a lifelong process of shifting trust from ourselves to Jesus Christ.  If you are here today and not a Christian, have you ever thought of the danger in placing faith in yourself? God does not help those who help themselves, God helps those who die to themselves and trust in Christ.  We can’t help ourselves because we are sinners and thus, need a Savior.  If you place your faith in yourself, your faith will fail you.  But if we place our faith in God, He will never fail you. We can trust God because He is perfect and offers the perfect life of His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us; His life for ours. He promises you new life through his resurrection from the dead, if you shift your trust from yourself unto God. 

God wants to use us to do great things in His name.  He wants us to go and make disciples of all nations.  He wants us to use our gifts to the building up of the body of Christ. He wants us to help change eternal destinies which is why Jesus says,

If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

He is not speaking literally as if we had the power of the force like Darth Vader to move physical things with our minds.  He is saying that small faith in Him can accomplish great things.  God wants us to work to spread His glory over the face of the earth.  We live in a unique era of history.  We have technology that is so advanced it can send a message instantly to the far reaches of the world.  We have thousands of mission agencies like the International Mission Board that is sending countless missionaries all over the world to reach the nations for Christ, but this was not always the case. Things started to change, when one man had faith in our great God.

            In the late 18th century it was extremely rare for Christians to use their wealth to reach the lost.  William Carey kept urging his fellow pastors to form a missionary society to convert the heathen in East Asia.  One elderly pastor once told him, “"Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me."[2] But Carey was convinced based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 that it was our obligation as Christians to go out into all the world to reach the lost for Christ.  He wrote an article, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens,” which became a rallying cry to support and send missionaries overseas. On May 30, 1792 Carey preached the “Deathless Sermon” to the congregation of Friar Lane Baptist Chapel in Nottingham, England.  In that great sermon based on Isaiah 54:2-4, he preached, “attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.”

 Carey had faith in God.  He trusted him.  He attempted great things for God by going to reach the lost in India.  On November 11, 1793 Carey arrived on the shores of India where he would spend the rest of his life.  He faced extreme difficulty and trials including sickness and the deaths of several children and two wives.  It took him 7 years to win his first convert to Christ. After 41 years on the mission field without a furlough, he only saw 700 converts, which is only roughly about 17 people being saved and baptized per year. These sound like very modest results compared to our day.  Carey would never see the impact of his life on earth, but his legacy echoes an eternity.  He translated the Bible into 42 oriental languages which are still in use today.  He laid the foundation of all modern foreign missions and his example encouraged thousands upon thousands to take cross to the nations.   He attempted great things for God and received great things from God. He had faith in God’s greatness and understood his weakness.  When Carey was buried in Serampore, India he had only a stone slab to mark his grave which read, “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.”  Carey understood two great truths: his sinfulness and God’s greatness. 

Do not focus on the greatness of your faith, but on the greatness of our God.  We were wretched, poor, and helpless worms that were shown the kindness of God in our redemption through our great Savior’s death and resurrection. Jesus was marked as wretched and poor on the cross so we could be marked with the righteousness of God.  And upon his victory over death, Jesus has given us new life through His Spirit. And now through the Spirit, we live to do great things for Him while expecting great things from Him.  Yet we do not want to error in thinking too highly of ourselves, and conversely we do not want to error in thinking too low of God. We must have balance. We grow in faith by growing our knowledge of God and beholding His glory. And when we grow in our view of God, we will grow in humility.

Grow Together in Humility

Jesus is the master of balance.  Right after encouraging his disciples that small faith can do great things, he encourages his disciples to keep their service in the proper perspective.  Luke 17:7-10,

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’

Christians should serve God. We should give ourselves for the work of the gospel.  There are some of you here that need to ask yourself, “Am I living to serve Christ and others or am I living so others can serve me?”  The Greek word used for servants here is the word doulos which means slave.  We are slaves for Christ.  He is our master and we serve him our lives. And yet, our Christian service never puts God in our debt.  God does not owe us something for our labor and service for him.  He does not need our service.  

Acts 17:24-25,

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

God does not need humanity to serve him for He has all that he needs. And it is He who gives us life and breath and everything.  Jesus is giving his disciples balance.  Jesus wants us to serve Him, but He wants us to serve Him in a very particular way.  He wants us to serve Him where He gets all the glory.

            Jesus was warning his disciples of the danger in thinking that spiritual service entitles the disciples to special favor on earth.  We will not be rewarded for what we are commanded to do. Jesus makes this crystal clear in verse 10, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  It is natural to think that God owes us something for our labor for him.  “Well God, I have been working very hard as a Sunday school teacher, therefore you should spare me the trouble of Alzheimer’s” or “God, I always give my 10% to your kingdom, so why would you allow me to get laid off from my job?” or “God, I pray and study hard to preach to your people so it is unfair you allowed me to get cancer.”  Beloved, we cannot think like this. God is never in our debt.  Our service does not give anything to God as though he needed anything, but He gave us everything through His Son. Even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus gave his life for ours, his glory for our shame. 

            God wants us to serve Him, but wants us to serve Him through His strength for His glory. 1 Peter 4:10b,

Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever Amen.

Philippians 3:13,

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). Do you see how if we trust in our own strength than we are seeking our own glory?  If we bring something to the table, then God owes us something. We are called to serve the Lord, but in the strength that He supplies in order that (1 Peter 4:10) in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. 

Daniel Eugene Ruettiger walked on to the Notre Dame Football team in 1974. He was severely undersized, measuring only 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing only 185 pounds.  His story was popularized in the 1993 feature film “Rudy.”  The movie documents his work ethic and extreme service for the Notre Dame Football program.  Before his last game his senior year, he was told that he did not make the dress list which means he would never be able to dress for an actual game. After serving the team for two years, he quits because he thought he deserved a chance to be on the sideline.  In the movie, Rudy is encountered by his friend, Fortune, in midst of his sulking.  Listen to their interaction,

Fortune: Hey, what are you doing here don't you have practice?
Rudy: Not anymore I quit.
Fortune: Oh, well since when are you the quitting kind?
Rudy: I don't know I just don't see the point anymore.
Fortune: So you didn't make the dress list, there are greater tragedies in the world.
Rudy: I wanted to run out of that tunnel for my dad to prove to everyone that I worked...
Fortune: PROVE WHAT?
Rudy: That I was somebody.[3]

That last line revealed that his service for the Notre Dame Football team was ultimately for himself. Is that you? Is your service ultimately self-serving? Do you serve God to prove to the world that you are somebody?  Or do you serve God to prove to the world that He is somebody?  Do you serve for your own glory or for the glory of God?

            Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Here how Charles Spurgeon warns and encourages us with this truth:

And what have we that we did not receive from the God of all grace? Then how careful ought we to be to walk humbly before the Lord! The moment we glorify ourselves, since there is room for one glory only in the universe, we set ourselves up as rivals to the Most High. Shall the insect of an hour glorify itself against the sun which warmed it into life? Shall the potsherd exalt itself above the man who fashioned it upon the wheel? Shall the dust of the desert strive with the whirlwind? Or the drops of the ocean struggle with the tempest? Give unto the Lord, all ye righteous, give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto him the honour that is due unto his name. Yet it is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence—“Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be glory.” It is a lesson which God is ever teaching us, and teaching us sometimes by most painful discipline. Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding “through Christ which strengtheneth me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing,” and bemoan himself in the dust. When we do anything for the Lord, and he is pleased to accept of our doings, let us lay our crown at his feet, and exclaim, “Not I, but the grace of God which was with me!” [4]

Beloved, behold the glory of the Lord. Give Him His due. We grow in faith as behold the Object of our faith. And when we see His glory, we will serve in humility. Whatever service the Lord calls you to: a stay-at-home mother, a praying widow, a faithful employee, or a behind-the-scenes servant.  Whatever sphere the Lord has called you have attempt great things for His name and expect great things from His hand.  And when our service is done, let us all say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.” We are wretched, poor, and helpless worms falling before our great and glorious Savior Jesus Christ.  We fall before Christ and lay our faith and our service at His feet for He alone is worthy to receive glory, and honor and power and might forever and ever!

[3] see clip here (
[4] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
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